Friday, February 02, 2007

Economic Consequences of Anti-Gay Laws, Part 2

Remember how I blogged several months ago about the effects of anti-gay laws on local economies? Back then, Virginia had passed one of the nation's most stridently anti-gay laws in the country -- potentially invalidating even private contracts between same-sex partners and their family members. As a result, gays began an exodus from Virginia that impacted everything from decisions to invest in the state (as highly qualified employees in many areas were becoming difficult to find due to the gay ban) to home buying plans (many real estate agents reported cancellations of interest in Virginia homes even in suburban DC).

Well, today the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the sweeping anti-gay marriage law passed by that state makes domestic partner benefits provided by local and state government institutions, public universities, and other public institutions illegal:

Public universities and state and local governments would violate the state constitution by providing health insurance to the partners of gay employees, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel said a 2004 voter-approved ban on gay marriage also applies to same-sex domestic partner benefits. The decision reverses a 2005 ruling from an Ingham County judge who said universities and governments could provide the benefits.

"The marriage amendment's plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose," the court wrote.

Now, many Libertarians have issues with public universities and government funding of various activities. However, it's a plain fact that said institutions represent a huge proportion of the services and higher education in that state -- and the voters of Michigan, whether intentionally or not, have ensured that large numbers of gay and lesbian professionals either leave or refuse to apply for positions in Michigan. In other words, a huge proportion of the best and brightest professors, researchers, and other employees won't even consider Michigan.

Doubtlessly, public employers in other states (not to mention private employers such as private universities) are dancing a jig at the moment -- government has altered the supply of talent to ensure that other states' pool of employees grows dramatically at Michigan's expense. Similar laws exist in several other rust belt states -- some so stringent that observers have mused that they may also apply to private employers.

Gay employees will increasingly choose employers and homes in states like California, Massachusetts, Arizona, and other states that have voted down hate laws over Ohio, Michigan, Alabama and other states that have embraced them. And not coincidentally, those states that have embraced hate are economic basket cases, while those that chose not to are some of the best-performing economies in the country.

For example, the University of Michigan -- a top business school and public institution -- will doubtlessly lose out in the war for talent with public and private universities in other states for highly prized business professors to institutions in other more tolerant areas. As those top academic and professional recruits head to Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Oxford, Thunderbird, INSEAD or other places, their profiles will grow even more prominent -- draining still more employees away from UMich.

The economic activity of universities isn't limited to teaching. As the best and brightest professors who happen to be gay or lesbian head to other institutions, the halo effects they deliver will go with them. Startups growing from academic research will pop up in other places -- not Michigan. Undergraduates and graduates deciding to stay locally to start businesses or join leading companies will stay in other places -- not Michigan. Private research grants and R&D expenditures going to top institutions will go to other academic communities -- not Michigan.

The supreme irony in this sorry situation is that the same states that drove out their talented, prosperous gay population -- and have suffered economic decline as a result -- will then demand that tolerant states that benefitted from an influx of gay people bail out the failing states with gay cash. However, mention their own culpability in the situation, and the anti-gay states will not budge.

A Libertarian government would fix the bases of both problems -- getting government and mob-rule referendums out of the business of deciding whether or not you "deserve" a gay professor, and leaving human resource decisions (and benefits negotiations) to employers and employees. . . not Pat Robertson and Lou Sheldon.

UPDATE: Blogger KipEsquire has noted the impact that a similar law in Wisconsin has had on that state's academic landscape:

At least three gay professors at the University of Wisconsin have left for other schools, since the University will not give benefits to partners of gay faculty. This includes two professors in the nation's top ranked Sociology Department (not for long I suspect).
Expect other gay professors to vote with their feet. And expect the University to suffer as other people, including straight professors and students, refuse to attend a University that practices discrimination.

We need to keep in mind of course that this is not the University of Wisconsin's doing — indeed, they were quite vocal in denouncing Wisconsin's mini-DOMA and predicted exactly this sort of brain drain, as I observed in my previous post on the subject.

Be careful what anti-gay laws you wish may get them.

Indeed. No matter what one's views on gay marriage are, attacks on the economic life of gay families are just as detrimental on the health of the larger community as they are on the gay families themselves.